Friday, December 13, 2013

I am interested in joining the fellowship. Please help.

Many people have come to me with this request. To save myself the time, I am writing this FAQ post based on my own experience till now. Before reading this I would suggest you go through the Teach for India homepage to know the basics.

Why people join TFI? 
My friends and I had a combination of different reasons to join the fellowship. Some of us joined the fellowship to make a difference - what better way to change mindsets than positively influencing young minds. Some of us wanted to build perspective about the problems of inequity in education and opportunity in India through the grassroot experience offered by the fellowship. Some of us wanted to push ourselves to new limits to develop our leadership skills. Some of us wanted a sense of purpose and meaningful impact in the work. Some of us wanted a challenge.  Some of us just wanted to take a break from the monotony of a corporate job. Some of us wanted to change the way children learn based on our own experiences with school and in general education. Some of us simply loved children and the fellowship involves a lot of close interaction with children. The list is not exhaustive in any way but represents some of the many reasons one may join the fellowship for.

Why did you join TFI?
I wanted to work in education in the long run. Once selected to the fellowship, TFI offers the most rigorous experience at the grassroot level in the field, regardless of your choice of academic background and past professional experience.It is a great way to network with driven and young people wanting to bring about change in their own small ways to the country. The fellowship pushes your management and leadership abilities to a new level, if you work consciously and with deep commitment towards excellence in the many things you are expected to do. Because of everything it offered, the fellowship was a natural choice for me.

Can I do XYZ alongside the fellowship? (XYZ = manage my own venture/work part time elsewhere/pursue part time education/and the like)
The fellowship is challenging and it is best you keep your complete mind space for it. If you think you are exceptional at managing your work, you can add more activities to your bucket after the first few months.

But wait, you left a well paying job for the fellowship? How do you manage?
Well, unlike earlier, I cannot fit in international holidays, indulgent shopping, a fancy apartment, etc. The money is just about enough to manage your living expenses. It requires conscious changes in lifestyle - you will have enough for the must-have but not enough for the good-to-have material things.

Life as a teacher must be easy right with long vacations and 5 hour work days.
If you are working diligently and driving your kids growth hard - you will have a "6 1/2" days working week which will involve lesson planning, long term planning, community visits, field trips, teacher training, conferences, extra classes, sports, parent teacher conferences, school administration work, observations and feedback,  school team meetings, etc. My work day is usually 10 hours long.The fellowship is a full time commitment. I would strongly recommend you visit and volunteer in a classroom for a few months before you take call to join it.

OMG. That is too much work. Do you have a personal life?
On weekdays, no, but on weekends, you can find time if you plan your schedule wisely. It is something you get better at with time.

What do you like about your job? 
1) I am an entrepreneur working with responsibility and freedom towards an objective of drive my kids' learning
2) I am loved by 70 more people (my students, duh!) in this world, no matter how much they pretend to not like me after a lesson where I have reprimanded them.
3) I am not competing with anyone - everyone can learn and even copy from each other as long as the kids are doing better.

What do you not like about the job?
1) Since I enjoy it a lot, it is often tough to stop thinking about the classroom.
2) In addition to the mental pressure of a corporate job, this job is emotionally and physically much much more demanding. Keeping fit and composed requires practice and effort.
3) Too many meetings and priorities.

What will you do after the fellowship?
I am undecided. My options are:
1) Continuing to work in a staff role with Teach for India or other such organizations working in education.
2) Doing a specialized masters in education
3) Entering research on education/child development
4) Becoming a public policy specialist in education.
5) Going back to a corporate role or joining a start up.
6) Working in consulting in the non-profit sector.
7) Becoming a teacher or a school administrator.
8) Starting my own venture focused on a piece of the problem.

May I visit your classroom?
Yes, you may provided you inform me well in advance!!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

December Diary!!

I have had an incredibly hectic week. I have had many moments where I wanted to blog but I never found the time during the weekdays. I have 6 hours left before I go to a cousin's wedding and loads of work to complete before I leave. However, I want to gather my thoughts before they are lost in the melee of the upcoming week.

We are making a difference
I had been offering a lift to a boy from our school who stays a few blocks away from my house, whenever I saw him waiting at the bus stop on the route that takes me to school. On reaching school, he would get off the rickshaw and walk off without turning back and saying thank you. This boy was not one of those in the Teach for India classrooms.

Last Wednesday, I offered a lift to a girl from one of the TFI classrooms. On reaching school, she got off the rickshaw and waited. Once I had paid the fare, she told me a thank you, wished me good morning and left with a smile.

No matter how challenging everyday in class seems and no matter how slow the progress of our kids appears, at least they are learning something. The show of courtesy put a smile on my face that morning. I made sure I narrated the story to most of my co-fellows to share the small joys of our daily adventures with the kids.

Kids are learning Science now
We have changed the classroom structure. I have taken up the onus of teaching Math in addition to Science. While I am still learning the skill of teaching Math, I have been enjoying teaching Science. The more effort I put in a tight, activity based lesson, the better the kids grasp the concept. The data I gather from the class indicates a higher degree of understanding of the basics at least. Now I have to focus on ensuring retention of concepts. With kids who are challenged in literacy, the challenge is to make them remember and reproduce their learning through simplified ways of expression. My focus is on creating as engaging a science lesson as possible that pushes skills in both critical thinking and literacy. This means more work for now, but stronger structures for the coming 18 months.

Kids know and understand me better now
"They are JUST kids" is an over used statement. Kids have a high emotional quotient. They recognize the slightest change in your mood and temperament. When you are enjoying the lesson, they enjoy the lesson with you. When you are angry, they get impatient. When you are low on energy, they are low on energy. What I am liking more is that some kids even have started approaching me with feedback after a class on how they enjoyed the lesson. Being in control of yourself and channelizing the classroom's energy positively when you are having a long tiring day is not easy. Hence, it is paramount I learn to stay calm and in control of my expressed feelings all the time.

Kids need avenues for creative expression
We have started the Jafari Artists Project in which kids learn new skills in art, craft, dance and debating. Rajesh and I lead debating, which is the newest activity to them. Compared to the colour in art and craft and the fun of dancing, debating on the outset seems boring to the kids. Debating also requires them to push their thinking more, which some of them don't enjoy after a long day in school. But after having the first mock debate, I could see sparks of excitement in some of the kids. They actively questioned Rajesh and me with strong questions on some of our arguments. For example, as an argument against capital punishment, one kid questioned "What is the guarantee of a criminal reforming and not committing a similar crime again?" As an argument against corporal punishment, another kid argued that "Children of scared of teachers who hit so they don't ask questions. If they don't ask questions, how will they learn?" These were the small moments where I could see a debater in the making. My dream is for my kids to participate and win the TFI led inter school debating competition by the end of next year. It is ambitious but should give children something worth striving for.

The Team is everything
I have a team of 8 members including myself. Each of us have had our share of trials and tribulations. And the nature of our job is such that these are not just restricted to our work. Often, you see the effects spill over to your personal well being - both emotional and physical. Some of us were realizing how our morale was drooping ever since the semester started and the effect it was having on the students. We decided to have an honest face to face conversation in everyone's presence. And it felt good. While we are aligned on the broad priorities now, the focus is on converting these into actions. Things should hopefully fall in place both inside and outside the classroom this week for each of us.

The beauty of our job is it allows us to have these conversations. We are not competing with each other. We are working together to make things work for our kids. The better each one of us does, the better our kids will do. And we have to always strive for putting our kids on the path of change.